Back in The Swing of Things (The Confident Sports Kid Picture Book Series 6)

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At least two matches every weekend. He adapted and, as was his custom, eventually thrived. They beat Tramore David Whittle played in the middle of the park and not long after was whisked off to QPR. Two weeks in Shepherd's Bush. Shacked up in the digs with David Whittle.

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Outside there were street signs advising that it was unsafe to walk alone in this area or that street. What year-old wouldn't love it? After a week QPR offered a four-year deal.

The O'Shea family convened in London. Four years on one hand.

A Leaving Cert on the other. O'Shea went back to the books. He had a brief affair with Celtic, went to Parkhead seven or eight times, with Willie McStay courting him keenly. The wooing came to nothing. Liverpool took him across and asked that he come to Anfield every weekend during his Leaving Cert year. He declined. They sent him a letter curtailing their interest and offering him advice on what he should work on. Aggressive heading of the ball. He could see their point.

Long-range passing. He'd like to have argued that one with them.

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Finally United. They'd watched the European Under championship campaign in Scotland. He'd known they were watching because Kevin Grogan, a United prospect, had told him so. Martin Ferguson, brother of himself, had contacts down in Waterford. Next thing the O'Sheas were in Manchester. Like a greeting line for the queen. The manager was to meet them all. Darren Fletcher's mam was from Mayo and she got on well with John O'Shea's mam and by the time Ferguson arrived the ice was broken.

Les Kershaw, the youth team guy, was there, beaming. The O'Sheas were here to sign a three-year contract.

Big deal. Then The Manager says: "So John, we'll take you on a three-month trial period.

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Exchanged glances. Are you going to say something? And Les stepped in. We'll be signing him on a three-year deal.

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John O'Shea disappeared into digs for three years. Cecil Avenue. The top floor of a house owned by a couple of teachers, Carol and John Daniels. Daytime was training time. At the Cliff or at Littleton Road. He knew two things. Ferrybank was keeping an eye on him and Alex Ferguson was watching over him. He always kept an eye on me when I went on loan and I always made sure not to go into the bad books. He settled into the life. Homesickness came and went. He played for the youth team and the reserves.

The Manager would come and look them all over the odd day, like a rancher surveying the herd. Dave Williams was the youth coach. Mike Phelan and then Brian McClair with the reserves. The Manager would come over and have long mysterious chats. Williams might say to him so-and-so is doing well, but your man is struggling. He'd pick out three or four making progress and The Manager would talk to them. He'd pick something they each needed to improve on but they always knew he was talking to them because they were thriving. John O'Shea got plenty of quiet words. Nightly he'd relate these things in phone calls home.

The family came over occasionally. Kenno was always promising to come but life, football, exams, girls all combined to keep him in Ferrybank. Someday for United v Leeds! See ya get trimmed, boy! Every time he went out on loan, he'd have doubts. Despite himself he'd have doubts. Jim O'Shea would speak to The Manager and be told young John was going here or there and it would make him a better player.

But on the streets in Ferrybank the word was different. Each loan was the beginning of the end. Should have gone to a smaller club. Told you so. He'll be back in the summer. And the word would be made law and it would float across to Cecil Street and get into John O'Shea's head and compete for space. He went to Antwerp a few years ago now. Himself and Jimmy Davis, a nippy striker about a year younger. Good beer town. They were two up-and-coming kids from Manchester United. Off, free as birds, in Belgium. Everyone spoke English and if they couldn't understand a broad Waterford accent at least its owner could understand them.

One evening around seven, Jimmy Davis knocked on the door out of the blue, walked in and sat down. Next thing the phone rang. Jim O'Shea. A sudden connection was made in John O'Shea's head. Jimmy is here because Dad has got bad news. Paul Kennedy. Cousin, pal, team-mate. They played together under the blank blue skies of boyhood. Paul had come home and hung himself in the house down the road. As simple and as black as that.

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We were fair close. Me Dad called me up that night. I remember Jimmy coming in unexpectedly.